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My natural hair journey has been just that, a journey.

It started at birth, but I won’t get into that whole story here. Instead, I want to share with you the story about how I decided after 10 years of chemically relaxing my hair, to stop and go natural.

A few years back, I watched a YouTube video about relaxers and the dangerous chemicals that our scalps absorb every time we get our hair chemically straightened. I decided that day, it wasn’t worth it. I simply was not willing to put my brain health at risk to have straight hair after I washed it. That’s when I did what we call, “the Big Chop.” It’s when a black woman who has consistently gotten a relaxer in her hair, decides to chop her hair super short in order to cut all of the stringy, relaxed parts off. I had reached a point in my life, where I felt like it was so important to just embrace who I was, in my most natural state. This may be hard to believe, but it had been years since I had seen what my hair looked like when it naturally grew from my head! I literally didn’t know what my natural hair looked like anymore and I was not ok with that.

The day I decided to go natural was a weekend. It was my husband’s birthday and we went to a skating rink. A little piece of me felt self conscious, but a big chunk of me felt liberated. I didn’t care what the people there thought, or what my family had to say, (even though they were mostly super encouraging.) I felt good! That’s when I decided to take it up a notch. It was time to wear my new afro to work.

This venture brought a whole new level of anxiety. This wasn’t a place full of strangers that I would never see again, sprinkled with beloved family members. This was my job! The place where I teach a classroom full of 5th grade students, 95% of which don’t look like me and have never seen hair like mine. There was a lot of insecurity around symbolically announcing my, “otherness,” to every person at my job, students and staff alike. This decision was the real deal. I had no idea what kind of reactions I would walk into my first school day with an afro.

That morning, on the way to school, I texted my teacher bestie and told her what I was doing. She immediately was like, “Do it!” I got to school, put my things down and walked, no ran, immediately to her classroom. Her reaction was the best, and further confirmed for me why she was my best friend.

She did what any real ally would do. She complimented me and encouraged me and made me feel so good about my choice. She helped set the tone for the rest of the day. No matter what happened, how people reacted, that I made the right choice and that my natural state was just as beautiful and valid as any other hair texture.

I went down to pick up my class and the look on all of their faces was one of complete surprise. I could feel them whispering to each other. I could feel the burning questions and comments they wanted to say. So, as soon as we got in the classroom, I took this opportunity to educate them and create a safe space in our room to discuss my difference in appearance. I let them ask me any question they wanted about my hair, without any judgment. We spent a solid 10 minutes talking about, not just my hair, but about the state of black hair in general. I let them know that society has told me and others like me that straighter is prettier and anything else is unruly and needs to be tamed. I let them know that I was tired of that and I wanted to be free to wash and wear my hair the way it naturally grew from my head. Because everyone deserves that right.

We proceeded with our day, as usual. I spent the rest of the next few days hearing various compliments from the staff and the other students not in my class. I don’t know if those compliments were genuine or if people were just saying it because they thought it was the right thing to do. But what I do know is, it stopped being a thing. It was just a regular occurrence. That was my favorite part of making that decision. The fact that I had normalized something that had always been seen as so other. The fact that I had helped widen the definition of beauty for my students. The fact that I could mirror for the young black girls who attended my school that it was ok that their hair had more volume and was kinkier than many of their peers.

My hair life has changed significantly for the better since I made my choice to go natural. My hair is healthier and longer than it has ever been my entire life. I’m still exploring the best products, and trying to figure out the most low-maintenance style as it continues to grow has been a challenge. But I don’t regret it, not for a second.

 I see articles about states like New York and, most recently, the California Senate passing bills banning workplace policies that discriminate against natural hairstyles and it makes me feel like I am a part of this significant progress in the overall acceptance of being unapologetically other. It’s really a shame that I had to talk myself into going natural. That when I decided to do it, that I viewed it as taking a risk or making a statement. It’s unfair that it has to be that way, ridiculous and, quite frankly, racist. But something has changed in me, starting with my hair. I am no longer willing to change who I am and who I am born to be in order to make other people feel comfortable. Because I am naturally me, and that will always be enough.